Despite multiple rounds of negotiation since the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are still increasing and there is no sign that this tendency is going to be reversed in the near future. In fact, the only tangible outcome of all these years of negotiation has been the creation of carbon markets and financial mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism. None of these have been a big success and it is a fact that lucrative parallel markets to speculate with carbon credits have been created. Many polluters are better off than ever whilst total emission did not decrease.
The current system needs to be changed. And it is no solution to create another treaty outside the UN framework, such as the latest proposal of the US to work on a kind of new Montreal treaty. Behind the ecological and economical problem lies a governance problem that is blocking the progress of the process; the incapacity to turn rhetoric into action. If Climate Change is a global problem it needs a global solution but so far it has been addressed only on a national level. It is important to remind ourselves that the same way the addition of national interests doesn’t result in a global interest, the sum of national actions is not a global action.
If we look into history, at the end of WWII the world was split as ever and there has been an attempt to unite via the creation of the UN. The high conditionality, absence of real integration, veto power, lack of democracy and the persistent intergovernmental approach of the UN are the reasons for its weakness and irrelevance when important issues are at stake – wars and others kinds of major crisis like Climate Change. The other side of the coin is Europe, where a few countries decided to move on with the revolutionary proposal of creating the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), a common project with common institutions that managed to achieve a common goal with limited but real power. Had the ECSC waited for the United Kingdom to start the process that was to lead to what is today the EU, we would probably not have the EU as such today. A parallel can be drawn to the global Climate Change action, where the US threat to block the process has influenced 20 years of negotiation. The unaccountable and inefficient system of cap and trade and offsetting of carbon we have today is the only concession made by the US. If the US had continued to play the positive role it has been playing during WWII it might have been possible to establish a system of emission limits managed by a small supranational body. But the US has not been in favour of democratic international institutions since 1946 and we have been paying a high price for it.
It is necessary to move on now. The effects of war can be reversed but those of Climate Change cannot. It is necessary that a group of countries decides to go first -just like France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux did 60 years ago- and set up institutions that are capable to deal with global problems. There are three possibilities to move on; the first and full-blown possibility is the creation of a Global Community for the Environment (GCE) to manage the emissions, the transfer of technology and the common actions in a democratic and accountable way. This follows the model of the ECSC in creating a communitarian body taking care of a global common interest, a bicameral legislative assembly composed of representatives of the people of the union and a council representing the member states and finally a judiciary with the role of settling disputes. This would be the best way to approach a global problem; with democratic institutions that can take democratic and accountable decisions minimising the danger of blockade.
This would be the best way to approach a global problem; with democratic institutions that can take democratic and accountable decisions minimising the danger of blockade.
A second possibility is the creation of a World Environment Organisation whose structure would resemble the current World Trade Organisation (WTO). It could succeed in doing the job if it managed to put in place an effective system to settle disputes. This is a proposal by the German and French leaders, Merkel and Sarkozy to the Secretary General of the UN, without much success. The draw-back of such as solution is that it only includes the interests of countries but not those of the citizens or global interests, and that if it is to follow the WTO system the communitarian body -the secretariat- would be too weak to steer anything which would be a lost opportunity in getting the citizens to engage in the fight against Climate Change. The WTO doesn’t have a good reputation among citizens; it is perceived as distant and surrounded by demonstrators and riots. The fact is that despite procedures it can be democratic; decisions are taken in the intergovernmental limbo far away from the citizens.
A third option is the International Court for the Environment (ICE) following the preceding International Criminal Court (ICC). A global judiciary on climate issues -ruling on the jurisdiction provided by the convention and protocols- is indispensable to avoid the current lack of enforcing the policies. The ICE would be a first step towards communitarianism from whereon it would be possible to evolve towards a democratic and accountable system of world relations.
All three options have no chance to succeed in the short term if every country is expected to sign in. More importantly, it is very unlikely that any of the three options will be supported by the US. Since the end of WWII the US has opposed any step in the direction of supranational democracy. In 1948 it initially didn’t accept the disputes settlement mechanism of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), precursor of the current WTO. Besides the US is one of the few countries in the world that has unsigned the Rome Statute which founded the ICC.
There is no reason to believe that the US is willing to change its policy in the short term, yet action in the short term is needed. A number of countries in the world are ready to move on with a more democratic and communitarian approach to world relations when it comes to Climate Change. In building a communitarian approach to fight Climate Change, just like the ECSC, not only those who are in the union would benefit but also those who are outside. For instance; the UK, Poland or Spain profited from the stability, common understanding, vision and good management of resources of the European Community even before they joined the EU. This could also be the case with the US and the few other countries that should decide to stay out of the first Global Community for the Environment.
A global approach to GHG emissions, eco-efficiency, resource use, biodiversity, energy savings, transnational infrastructure and renewable energies as well as a progressive deal in worldwide converging emissions per capita are possible positive outcomes of setting up a communitarian system based on trust and equality between the members.
The US, number one polluter per capita in the world, would benefit not only because they were to profit from the effort of others to fight Climate Change but also because they might understand it is in everyone’s interest to change the current fossil-fuelled economy into a more efficient and decarbonised one. In a way, the US is committing economic suicide with it’s reactionary policies of protecting the status quo. It is a paradox that a country with a structural fear of state intervention approves of a government continuing to use the tax-payers money to subsidise fossil fuels. That is not only against the logic of free-markets but also against global interests. A Global Climate Community could foster a pooling of research and technologies and by introducing the concept of supranational solidarity and thanks to the economies of scale it would allow for a rapid decarbonisation of the world economy. From a competitive point of view, a country like the US that continues to subsidise fossil-fuels might be interested in joining the community, just like the UK decided that joining the EU is better than staying out because of a widening technological gap. A coherent and responsible communitarian management of the transition to low-carbon economy would spark a lot more innovation and productivity than an economy that subsidises fossil fuels. The US had to join the Global Climate Community long before the Tea Party would have expected.
What about China and India? They are about to be the world’s biggest polluters and hence it will be difficult to make a deal with them on cutting emissions. However their opposition to a better governance solution is not of the same nature as it is in the US. A global approach to GHG emissions, eco-efficiency, resource use, biodiversity, energy savings, transnational infrastructure and renewable energies as well as a progressive deal in worldwide converging emissions per capita are possible positive outcomes of setting up a communitarian system based on trust and equality between the members. The EU is a good benchmark for the positive effects and externalities of setting up a communitarian system, the UN system on the other hand and more concretely the UNFCCC is a benchmark for how little can be achieved with horse-trading deals in intergovernmental forums.
In historical moments like this it is necessary to hold on for a moment and observe history in order to understand that humanity did advance when working together and failed when being split. To solve the current challenges it is important to leave intergovernmentalism behind and find ways for human-beings to work for the same goal. Diplomats and politicians consider the climate negotiations a battle field with winners and losers -funnily those who think they are the winners are those who are continuing pollution and the losers those who have to cut emissions. The truth is that within the current system citizens lose and the faith in democratic institutions and politics as an instrument to serve them gets lost.
Changing the course of history is not easy but if we continue on the route of intergovernmentalism it is at our own risk. Thomas Jefferson once said “One man with courage is a majority”. Let’s hope we can find one who dares to speak up for a communitarian solution among the hundreds of leaders in Cancún.